At the back of my mind has always been the thought that technology will make the whole low carbon thing entirely redundant. We\’ll move away from fossil fuels because we find something better, not because we want to stop emitting CO2.
No doubt this is the result of too much science fiction consumed as an adolescent.
Engineers plan to put satellites into orbit around the planet that can gather energy from the sun, concentrate it into powerful laser beams and transmit the energy back to the Earth where it can be used to generate electricity.
While harvesting solar energy in space has been discussed by scientists for more than 30 years, engineers at EADS Astrium, Europe\’s largest space company, now believe the technology is available to allow them to start building a working prototype.
They hope to have a small demonstrator of a full sized space-based power station, capable of beaming back 10-20kW of power, ready for launch in the next five years.
Quite why they\’re using lasers I\’m not sure:
But Astrium claims that its approach of using infrared lasers will make the system safer than other proposals which have suggested using microwaves to transmit the energy. If misdirected, microwaves could cause widespread damage, effectively cooking anything in their path.
That\’s not actually true. The concentration of energy would be too low to do that. Plus people have already tested transferring energy via microwave (they did it between two Pacific islands, fortuitously the right distance apart to mimic the depth of the atmosphere) and it works.
The real point about all of this though is that we know that it works. We\’ve the satellite technology, the transmission technology and the energy comes to Earth in a form that is easy to feed into our current grid systems. Oh, and yes, the available energy is vastly greater than the amount that civilisation already uses. By several orders of magnitude actually.
What we don\’t have and the thing that we need to have to make it all economic is a cheap way of getting into orbit. Which leads to a though. The Stern Review says we should be spending perhaps 2% of GDP to adjust for emissions and climate change. That\’s around $1 trillion a year globally.
Do I think that spending $1 trillion on researching a cheap way into space (say, a space elevator) would enable us to actually construct one? Yes, I do. And given that constructing such a cheap method of getting into space would be a total and final solution to climate change I would rather wish that we did do so actually.